Jakarta cave-in sparks anger

President Habibie’s decision to allow international peacekeepers in East Timor arouses nationalist sentiments.

PRESIDENT B.J. Habibie’s decision to allow foreign troops into trouble-torn East Timor sparked an upsurge of nationalist sentiments especially in the government and local media, with many resentful of international pressure on Indonesia.

While diplomats and analysts saw some light at the end of the tunnel over the issue – with the possible deployment of a multi-national UN peacekeeping force in a matter of weeks – newspapers yesterday expressed anger after Jakarta buckled under the weight of criticism.

There were also demonstrations at Australia’s embassy in Jakarta and at the representative office of the state of Western Australia in Surabaya. Police managed to head off protesters intending to march to the American consulate in Surabaya.

But sentiment on Indonesia’s stock market rose in the wake of Jakarta’s decision, closing up 1.22 per cent at 569.6 points yesterday. The rupiah was quoted at 7385/7885 to the US dollar in late trading, against 8250/8300 on Friday. While reports out of Dili said the capital was decidedly calmer yesterday, the news for Indonesia’s Defence Forces (TNI) out of Jakarta was anything but.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said there was mounting evidence the military was fully involved in the violence against East Timorese – and spoke of the possibility of having a tribunal to examine human rights abuses by the TNI.

The sentiment in leading Indonesian dailies, however, was decidedly one of anger.

The Indonesian-language Kompas daily, accusing the West of double standards, said in a strident editorial: “The presence of a UN peacekeeping force in East Timor is the result of continuous pressure against us.

“The international reaction to East Timor’s problems has removed the mask of Western governments. Previously they supported invasion, now they threaten us. In the past, they sent war arms to fight the Timorese.

“Now they have stopped. But we don’t have to be disappointed. There are still many countries which sell sophisticated weapons, like China, Russia, Argentina or even India.”

The criticism appeared directed at countries like the US, which backed quietly Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor and gave arms to the military, as it saw Jakarta as a staunch regional ally against communism. Australia was also one of the few countries to recognise Indonesian rule in East Timor.

Several other papers reflected in varying degrees the sentiments aired by Kompas. But the English-language Jakarta Post, hailed Dr Habibie’s move, saying it would rebuild foreign confidence in the country.

“It provides Indonesia with a face-saving exit,” the paper said.

But with national pride hit badly by Jakarta having to accept the idea of foreign troops in the territory, obstacles could still crop up and affect the composition and the type of peacekeeping force that could be sent in. Some parliamentary leaders here have expressed opposition to countries like the US and Australia being involved.

Australia, which has positioned itself as the leader of any international force, has put 2,000 troops on 48-hour standby. Western diplomats said that while Jakarta accepted participation by Australia and the US publicly, there were private reservations.

“Deep down in their hearts, the Indonesians don’t want anyone,” said a senior diplomat. “But given a choice between Westerners and Asians, the government prefers Asians to lead the way.”

Indonesian generals and politicians mention the involvement of Asean nations – in particular Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore – which could work side by side with TNI.

They said bilateral military exercises have fostered strong ties and would thus make it easier to coordinate operations on the ground.

A Western diplomat said there was likely to be “a great deal of foot-dragging and negotiations” in Jakarta and New York over the next few days to “save the face of a few individuals”.

“But there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he added.

“The Indonesians have conceded the fundamental principle of allowing foreign troops in. There will be some resistance along the way, but things can only improve for East Timor.”

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